Ourtzargh to Fes

At 8am the next morning, we’re on the road again, winding our way up and down a few hills on rickety roads, mostly in first or second gear and always with the reservoir to our right. Finally we leave the reservoir and turn southwards. The landscape changes to more and more brown-tones. We climb up one long hill and when we turn a corner, suddenly there is a moment of magic in the landscape that stops us in our tracks. We park Emma by the side of the road and for the next two hours we delve into the grand silence of these mountains that look just like giant sand dunes but are more like stone or maybe clay, to the touch.

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We climb up one long hill and when we turn a corner, suddenly there is a moment of magic in the landscape that stops us in our tracks. We park Emma by the side of the road and for the next two hours we delve into the grand silence of these mountains that look just like giant sand dunes but are more like stone or maybe clay, to the touch.

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I take the opportunity of a sunny, quiet morning to do a whole lot of admin regarding the Bandoneon Days I’m organizing in Germany next April, as well as the Tango Mango next August (for which the booking lines aren’t yet open though the programme is shaping up nicely). What a spectacular ‘office’! An older guy in a brown Djellaba joins me at the top of the hill and sits down some 20m from me, remaining in one position for over an hour while I’m on the phone to various people and moving about – sitting down, getting up, walking around and sitting down again. How can he sit still for so long, and in such an awkward position???

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Note the shape of the random piece of plastic (don’t get me going on plastic here, it’s another whole chapter in its own right!), also in the Moroccan reclining position!

Eventually, two little kids appear over the brow of the hill and he gets up and walks away with them. Maybe he’s their grandfather and he was waiting for them to come out of Kindergarten. They can only have been 4 and 6 years old at the most.

The air in Morocco is special in general (except in the cities of course), but up here in particular. Somehow, it goes deeper into the lungs… it’s hard to describe.

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After our sunny stop on what feels like the top of the world, we descend into a large plain. We are passing a field where a family has stopped their work of ploughing and sowing to share a big tagine between them. They wave at us and motion us to stop and join them, so we do. We grab a few fruits, oranges, tomatoes etc. and join them. They are so friendly, everyone smiling and welcoming us to their meal and to Morocco in general. The food is most delicious, a large plate of couscous and a chicken on top. Then that gets pushed aside and out comes another dish, equally delicious, artichoke stems and beef. Of course it’s Friday, which is their Sunday, hence the special nature of the meal and possibly also the very open invitation for others to join. We’re not the only ones who get invited. Any passing car gets flagged down, everyone stops to share food or just for a chat. We speak with each other in a mixture of french, arabic, hands and feet. The mother of the family, the cook, stands a little off to one side, having brought the meal, laughing and joking. She oozes joy. It can’t be an easy life, but the people look content.

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An hour later, they pack the food away, the men return to the plough and the sacks full of beans to sow, the matriarch takes her granddaughter by the hand and walks off down a long straight field path back to the house in the distance and we drive on, full of food and good feelings.

For those who wonder which road we’ve been following during the last few days, it was the R419, and as we come up to where it joins the National road to Fes, we feel like we are leaving a magical world, like waking from a dream.

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For all photos of this chapter, click here


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Olive Harvest

We may have thought that we are on our way to Fes, but life intervenes. About 1km out of the village, at the top of a hill, we look down into an olive grove and see a family harvesting. We stop and I venture out with a camera, hoping to be allowed to take photos. They are very friendly and agree. It is such a beautiful morning and there is such a nice atmosphere among the people here that I ask if Frank and I can join them. They laugh and gently accept my offer of help. I go to get Frank, and for the next two hours, we bash the olive trees with canes or pick up beautiful, ripe, shiny fruit by the bucketful from the rich earth.

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Every single fruit gets picked up. There is a lot of light-hearted banter going on, much laughter and we manage to make quite a bit of conversation with them too, all in Arabic of course! We ask for a song but are given a phone to listen to a harvest song instead. We try to encourage them to sing for us, but to no avail, even when we try to tempt them by doing a bit of singing ourselves. The songs exist, but for some reason they don’t want to oblige.

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Harvesting olives is Yoga of the best kind. Forward folds or deep lunges facing uphill, one foot forwards, hands free to gather the fallen fruit, taking deep breaths in the clear morning air. After two hours we move on, not without an exchange of gifts – we leave a jar of lemon marmalade and receive a pot of freshly pickled olives. They also invite us for dinner that night but we want to move on…

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Everywhere people wave to us and smile, and there are many, many children walking along the road, the little ones in one direction, the big ones in the other. Probably they share a school building. We wonder just how far the little ones walk along this road on their own… most of the children look really happy and are well dressed. Just occasionally we see a tired, thirsty or forlorn face…

We drive uphill for a long time and when we come across the top, we are regaled with our first sight of the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains in the far distance, and in the valley below us, there is a big reservoir.

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We are in the middle of a farming community, with many people walking along the road, driving donkeys laden with olive sacks. An old woman is bent over double, carrying a huge bunch of olive branches back home, probably for her goats, while another woman is heaving a heavy sack of olives. We stop to offer her a lift but she declines. We pass some pretty rough looking places and some that are immaculately clean and well tended. They don’t seem to be any richer, but just more loved. People stand by the side of the road with big piles of olives on plastic sheets, presumably having just picked them that morning and now waiting for someone to come and buy them. Slowly the landscape is changing from a lush green towards different shades of brown.

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We see many farmers ploughing their land with two animals, either donkeys, mules, cows or horses. They seem stuck against the steep hillsides, like two-dimensional paintings or like pictures woven into a tapestry of varying shades of brown. There is a peaceful silence over everything, and a deep blue sky.

As the sun is setting, we descend into the valley until at last we reach the town of Ourtzargh. We stop by the police station to ask where it is safe to park and are offered a parking spot just outside their headquarters. Again, they want to take all our details, and they are very polite and helpful as well as cracking a few jokes while doing the job. They assign a guardian to us who proceeds to park his car in front of Emma, sitting in it and watching.

We ask where we can get our internet data recharged and are taken to the local phone shop by a guy who looks like a police informer in his mafia type car with blackened windows.

The phone shop is run by the local maths teacher in his spare time. He’s in a bit of a rush because he has to go to prayers, but all goes very smoothly with the help of his 13 year old son, probably more qualified than all of us together to deal with the vagaries of the internet and who quickly recharges both our phones. The police guy is waiting around for us but we tell him we are fine to walk back and after some hesitation he leaves us to our fate. We stroll back to Emma through a pretty rough town, concrete buildings several storeys high, unfinished but lived in. This seems to be the norm in the poorer areas. We get a lot of looks – I think about how weird it must be to see the two of us strolling along arm in arm in our jellabas, me with my hair short and uncovered, both of us obviously foreigners. I don’t think they see many foreigners here anyway, let alone people like us.

When we come back to Emma, our guardian seems to have disappeared. He probably didn’t think it worth guarding our vehicle once we’d gone out.

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For a series of photos of this day, click here and enjoy!

Ps.: Did you know that flikr has a slide show function? Make a cup of coffee and enjoy the photos full size with leisure!


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